FRED EVERSLEY’s 12ft magenta sculpture sits in a prime Manhattan location that most artists would kill for – Central Park’s entrance from 5th Avenue. Titled “Parabolic Light’ its pristine, translucent, highly polished reflective surfaces produce an optical experience. It is, according to no other than the Getty, “at once elegant and mystical.”
Eversley’s story is remarkable. An aerospace engineer, in the 1960s, he worked for NASA on their spaceflights Gemini and Apollo, supervising high-intensity acoustic and vibration testing. Always gregarious, this New Yorker naturally gravitated to artists. Moving to California, he became friends with several Los Angeles artists who often asked for technical advice. “I quickly got involved with guys living in the area—people such as Larry Bell, Robert Irwin, John McCracken, James Turrell, Richard Diebenkom, Ed Ruscha. Some of them were making works that relied on technology, so, as an engineer, I would help them with technical things.”
But when he had a bad car accident in 1967, which broke his thigh and resulted in crutches for over a year, Eversley started working in photography, then sculpture; encouraged by Rauschenberg, he began to explore the possibility of a career that involved making things, rather than following the standard path of an engineer. “At that time, the Venice Beach art scene had a very generous and energetic atmosphere. Everyone was experimenting with new materials and new ideas, which were openly shared.”
In the late 1960s, Eversley became a full-time artist and pioneered a method of casting dyed liquid plastic in circular moulds that were spun on a rotating turntable. His experimental use of plastic, cast polyester resins, and industrial dyes and pigments reflects the technological advances of the postwar period. “The parabola has been with me, been the core of my life’s work.” The parabola, he explains, is the only shape that concentrates all kinds of energy, whether light, movement or sound, to a single focal point. “My work is all about energy, so playing with and pushing the boundaries of the parabola has been the focus.”
Eversley’s debut solo exhibition was at the Whitney in 1970, then in 1977, he was the first artist in residence at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. He is now considered a key member of LA’s Light and Space movement and has continued to produce highly technical cast-polyester sculptures for over fifty years.
No artist’s life is all plain sailing. Thirty years ago, I joined Eversley for a trip across Europe to what I knew as Czechoslovakia. Looking for a place to make his key circular sculptures in glass resulted in an interesting adventure uphill, down-dale and through forest to isolated glassworks like the memorable Jakub Glassworks in Tasice. Dating from 1796, it was the oldest in Central Europe, specialising in handcrafted glass. That was followed by huge famous factories like Moser. I learned a lot about glass and Czech food! But sadly, nothing came of the project.
Eversley’s straddling of the scientific, optical, metaphysical, mystical, artistic and commercial worlds can make life difficult. But it paid off. Eversley has always supported himself with his science-based art, with over 200 exhibitions and work in collections worldwide, including the Tate. “I’ve been lucky to have had many really great public art commissions, like Miami Airport, without having a famous gallery doing it for me,” he said.
After 50 years, Eversley recently lost his legendary Frank Gehry-designed studio in Venice Beach to gentrification rent hikes. It had been a mix of physics and chemistry, science lab and artist’s studio. Eversley’s pioneering work requires a huge degree of precision and rigour with its centrifuges, flames, moulds, casting equipment, and varying chemical processes. “Even though you might use the same three colours in five different pieces if you change the speed of each one, they lay over each other and make different pieces,” Fred explains. “You try to predict, but in the end, you get surprises.”
Recent impressive solo shows at the Orange County Museum of Art, California, Rose Art Museum and Brandeis University put him back in the spotlight. But this is the first time he has exhibited large-scale, free-standing public sculpture in his hometown. It has been a long time coming – but given its current superb location, the cathedral shape ‘Parabolic Light’ is a must-see sculpture!
Now Manhattan is based in SoHo in a place he sensibly bought back in 1980, and with the help of “the best expert foundries” in Holland and NY, he has conquered it all to create a world of radiant colour in abstracted form. Parabolic Light is shaped as a plano-convex lens that focuses light into a single line, acting as an optical instrument. Its magenta hue shades from rich saturation at the base to colourless transparency at the apex. The colour also shifts depending on the angle of the viewer and the direction of the sun. In a word, beautiful.
New sculptures will be in stainless steel, with eight significant 16 ft high works set in a reflecting pool for West Palm Beach, part of a program which benefits from a per cent-for-art fund from development projects there. “We are aiming high to afford artists who take creative risks and are innovative in their approach,” says Sybille Welter, Administrator of Public Art & Culture for the City. “The city’s vision is to create public spaces that enhance the visual and cultural environment of West Palm Beach through artworks by significant artists.” Along with Eversley, these include Yinka Shonibare, Shilpa Gupta and Michael Craig-Martin.
Next year, Eversley will have his most comprehensive survey yet at the Benton Museum of Art, Pomona, as part of the Getty Foundation’s Pacific programme. Frederick John Eversley, born in Brooklyn in 1941, is an American sculptor to be reckoned with.
“Parabolic Light” was commissioned and presented by Public Art Fund.
Words: Clare Henry Photos courtesy Fred Eversley ©